Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Nation of Emigrants

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said in parliament that we are a nation of immigrants. As such we should welcome more immigrants to our tiny country.

What kind of stupid logic is that?

Dear sir, do you know what was the population density of Singapore, a British colony, before the 2nd World War and what is the population density of Singapore today?

The minister also promised that Singapore had “sufficient land” to cater to current and future needs, provided the space was used “judiciously and wisely”.

Demonstrating typical Singaporean-style creativity and innovation, he elaborated what he meant by ‘judicious and wise use of space’ by saying, “We need to optimise land use … through reclamation, building upwards, or using subterranean space.” Sir, haven’t we been doing that for the past 40 years?

He also said, “We will also need to invest in necessary infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, and power and utilities.” Sir, haven’t we been doing that for the past 40 years?

In that case, I also can be creative and innovative. Let me give our government a suggestion. We need to optimise use of human resources. We should educate and train our people to the fullest so that we can have a highly productive workforce that generate more wealth without having to resort to bringing in so many foreign talents.

Earlier this month he promised that Singapore would not be bursting at the seams. I say we are already bursting at the seams. Now he promises that Singapore had “sufficient land”. I say our ‘little red dot’ already have insufficient land. I challenge anyone prove me wrong.

Our government has always boasted that it is pragmatic and do not make empty promises. I hope I live long enough to see Mr Mah and his colleagues deliver on the above promises.

Personally, I think that at the rate we are going, Singapore is going to become a nation of emigrants. With a “planning figure” (playing with words as usual) of 6.5 million, I see many of our children going where their parents refused to go – leave our beloved country for ‘greener pastures’. With prices of properties sky-rocketing, my children will be sorely tempted to sell the house I bequeath to them, and just leave this place that their parents slogged so hard to build to the immigrants. And what makes the government so sure that today’s immigrants will not become emigrants as well when they see Singapore turning into the very sardine cans that they left behind in the first place?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Does Customer Service Training Work?

In today’s edition of TODAY (the newspaper), there’s an article on customer service. I believe it is part of a regular column by Liang Dingzi called Serve Us Right.

In today’s story, the writer narrated two cases of poor customer service. The first was from a hotel and the second, from a bank. From the first she concluded with this cardinal rule of customer service; “When in doubt, decide in the customer’s favour“, and from the second; “Never make an issue of doing the customer a favour“.

This article got me pondering. Certainly in the hotel and banking industry, the frontline staff have gone through extensive training in customer service. So whilst the article makes interesting reading for a layman like me, it wouldn’t be teaching those people to whom her story is directed anything they don’t already know.

I am reminded of an interesting post by a blogger called Victor who narrated his somewhat unpleasant encounter with a bank officer at a reputable bank. He then contrasted this with a much happier encounter with a hawker. Comparing these two service providers, the former, the bank officer is probably much better educated and have attended numerous hours of customer service training. Yet, in the words of this blogger, “JY (the bank officer), looks like you could learn something from Helen, the coffee lady. She only sold me a cup of tea that cost a mere 60 cents and yet she took pride in providing good service. On the other hand, you know that my dealings with your bank run into several hundred thousand dollars and are worth several thousand dollars in annual earnings to your bank, part of which pays your salary.”

So what conclusion can we draw from these two articles? My own conclusion is that what we have here is not a problem of knowledge or skill. What we have is what my children like to call, AP, or Attitude Problem.

Can such an attitude problem be addressed by sending the staff for more customer service training? I very much doubt so. Unlike lack of knowledge or skill, poor attitude is much more complex a problem, and its causes don’t always lie with the individual. It is influenced by a variety of factors like work environment and culture, staff relations, staff welfare, work overload and so on, and often points back to the individual’s boss. Hence, the boss who simply sends his staff for training without taking a good hard look at himself, is like the man who lost a coin in a dark alley and searched for it under a lamp post.

And the results are all around for us to see.

Related posts:
1) Interesting Encounters with Rude Cashiers
2) Consciously Rude

Sunday, February 11, 2007

6.5 Million?

It was reported yesterday that our government is aiming to increase the population on our little island to 6.5 million by the year 2020. Making the announcement, minister for National Development, Mah Bow Tan promised that our country will not 'burst at the seams'.

Dear Mr Mah. Where have you been? Don't you travel on our roads and occasionally try out our public transport? Or visit our parks and popular places like Sentosa, not as a VIP, but as a private citizen? Worse still, try to cross over and return from neighbouring Johor Bahru via the causeway during festive season? Haven't you seen the long queues of lorries and goods vehicles waiting at the causeway and emphathized with the drivers? I can continue for another 5 paragraphs but every Singaporean knows what I am talking about.

Sir, we are already bursting at the seams! Isn't life here stressful enough. Please have some pity on poor Singaporeans who have to escape to neighbouring Malaysia and put up with the insults of people like Mahathir.

Please, please I beg you. Don't do this to our children.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Politicians Say the Darndest Things (2)

We all sympathize with the people of Johor who have suffered terribly from the massive floods that recently affected the southern part of peninsular Malaysia. Even as the government sets up a committee to investigate the causes of the massive flooding, the Mentri Besar of Johor, Datuk Abdul Ghani has gone public and alleged that it was our land reclamation projects at Pulau Tekong that have contributed to these floods.

There is a well-known Chinese proverb that says:

冰冻三尺 非一日之寒; or
A three –feet layer of ice did not result from one day of chill.

It teaches us that the visible effects of a problem are often the consequence of prolonged period of neglect. In analyzing a problem, we must therefore invest the time to probe deep into the root causes. We must be thorough in uncovering all the factors that may contribute to the problem. Failure to do this may lead us to implement measures that merely remove the symptoms without preventing the recurrence of the problem. Even a production operator or bus driver who has undergone QCC (quality control circle) training would know this. Strange that as learned a man as the menteri besar does not know this simple principle.

I suspect that the datuk must have been inspired by the accusations of the Thai generals that Singapore eavesdrops on their secret telephone conversations. It’s simply another ‘Napoleonic’ tactic to divert the attention of the suffering citizens away from his own ineptness.
Personally, I believe the root cause of the floods is the prolonged period of neglect by the government of that part of Malaysia. In the words of Tortrakul Yomnak, the structural engineer who heads the team investigating problems with Thailand’s new Suvarnabhumi International Airport, it’s “systemic failure”. I estimate it goes back at least 22 years. Maybe the big boss was too preoccupied with ‘mega-projects’ and multi-million dollar ‘scenic bridges’ to bother with something as trivial and unglamorous as drainage and rubbish disposal.

That of course brings me back to my favourite Malaysian politician, Mahathir Mohammad, the man who ruled Malaysia for 22 years. We have not heard from the ‘loose cannon’ for a long time. The poor guy suffered a heart attack last year and consequently the guns had gone silent. But thankfully, he has recovered and thus I can continue to look forward to more additions to my collection of Mahathir gems.

Here is his latest salvo.

  • Singapore does not really care about the opinion of its neighbours.

  • Singapore believes the most important thing is what profits Singapore.

  • You will get nowhere with them either being nice or being tough; they only think of themselves.”